CHICAGO, IL, January 10, 2011
--/WORLD-WIRE/-- The Cancer Prevention Coalition today is
drawing public attention to a two page article in the New York Times,
"When Wrinkle-Free Clothing Also Means Formaldehyde Fumes," published on
December 10, 2010, which stated that "formaldehyde is commonly found in
a broad range of consumer products." These include sheets, pillow cases,
and drapes, besides "personal care products like shampoos, lotions, and
Samuel S. Epstein, M.D., who chairs the Cancer Prevention Coalition,
says, "The dermatologists and other scientists quoted in the Times
appear unaware of the longstanding scientific evidence on the
carcinogenicity of formaldehyde. However, this had been detailed in five
National Toxicology Program Reports on Carcinogens from 1981 to 2004."
The Times assured its readers that "most of the 180 items tested,
largely clothes and bed linens, had low or undetectable levels of
formaldehyde that met voluntary industry guidelines." Accordingly, the
Times claimed, "Most consumers will probably never have a problem with
exposure to formaldehyde," since such low levels "are not likely to
irritate most people," other than those wearing wrinkle-resistant
However, Dr. Epstein points to evidence that links formaldehyde
exposure with increased incidence of nasal cancer and breast cancer.
The Times article stated that "The U.S. does not regulate
formaldehyde levels in clothing. ... Nor does any government agency
require manufacturers to disclose the use of this chemical on labels."
But that could change. On March 5, 2008, Senators Bob Casey, Sherrod
Brown, and Mary Landrieu introduced an amendment to the Consumer Product
Safety Commission (CPSC) reform bill "that would help protect Americans
from dangerous levels of formaldehyde in textiles including clothing..."
The Senators referred to a 1997 CPSC report on formaldehyde, which
admitted that "it causes cancer in tests on laboratory animals, and may
cause cancer in humans." Accordingly, the Senators requested the CPSC to
"regulate and test formaldehyde in textiles - and protect consumers from
In August 2010, a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report
warned that "a small proportion of the U.S. population does have
allergic reactions to formaldehyde resins on their clothes." However,
the GAO made no recommendations for any regulatory action.
Dr. Epstein supports both regulatory and legislative action based on
scientific evidence in the five National Toxicology Program Reports on
Carcinogens that classified formaldehyde as "reasonably anticipated to
be a human carcinogen," based on limited evidence of carcinogenicity in
humans, and sufficient evidence in experimental animals.
This evidence was confirmed in a series of reports by the prestigious
International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC). Its 2006 and 2010
reports explicitly warn that formaldehyde is "a known cause of leukemia
in experimental animals - and nasal cancer" in humans.
"Strong" evidence of the nasal cancer risk was also cited in the May
2010 President's Cancer Panel report, "Environmental Cancer Risk: What
Can We Do Now?"
"Nevertheless," says Dr. Epstein, "and in spite of this explicit
evidence, a September 2010 Government Accountability Office report
attempted to trivialize the cancer risks of formaldehyde on the alleged
grounds that exposure levels are low or 'non-detectable.'"
Of further concern, Dr. Epstein warns, "occupational exposure to
formaldehyde has been associated with breast cancer deaths in a 1995
National Cancer Institute report, while environmental exposure has been
associated with an increased incidence of breast cancer in a 2005
University of Texas report."
"Disturbingly," observes Dr. Epstein, "none of the dermatologists
quoted in the New York Times appear aware of longstanding evidence that
most cosmetics and personal care products, commonly used daily by most
women, besides on their infants and children, and to a lesser extent
men, contain up to eight ingredients which are precursors of
These include diazolidinyl urea, metheneamine, and quaterniums, each
of which readily breaks down on the skin to release formaldehyde, Dr.
Epstein explains, warning, "This is then readily absorbed through the
skin, and poses unknowing risks of cancer to most of the U.S.
Samuel S. Epstein, M.D. is professor emeritus of Environmental and
Occupational Medicine at the University of Illinois at Chicago School of
Public Health, and Chairman of the Cancer Prevention Coalition; and
former President of the Rachel Carson Trust. His awards include the 1998
Right Livelihood Award and the 2005 Albert Schweitzer Golden Grand Medal
for International Contributions to Cancer Prevention. Dr. Epstein has
authored 20 scientific articles and 15 books on cancer prevention,
including the groundbreaking The Politics of Cancer (1978), Cancergate:
How to Win the Losing Cancer War (2005) and most recently Toxic Beauty
(2009, Benbella Books:
www.benbellabooks.com) about carcinogens in cosmetics and personal
Samuel S. Epstein, M.D.
Chairman, Cancer Prevention Coalition
Professor emeritus Environmental & Occupational Medicine
University of Illinois at Chicago School of Public Health
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